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Jeffco Teacher “Sickout” Has Me Feeling Sick… And Confused

Having to write this kind of post makes me feel a little sick to my stomach. Why would some teachers walk out on kids, enough to close down two Jeffco high schools? The headline from a 9News story points to the only two possibilities I can see: AP US History or teacher pay raises.

What… some teachers don’t like pay raises? I doubt it. But the plan approved last night by the Jeffco school board gives 99 percent of teachers a boost in take-home pay. For 98 percent of teachers, it’s either a 2.43% increase if they earned an effective rating, or a 4.25% increase if they earned a highly effective rating. In fact, many weeks ago, the board agreed to increase the total amount available for employee pay increases — from $11.7 million to $18.2 million!

Is that so terrible? Only 66 less-than-effective teachers are left out of the extra salary, but even they get all of their increased PERA retirement costs covered by district taxpayers. New teacher base salary was raised from $33,616 to $38,000. And in an unusually generous move, teachers on the highest end of the scale ($81,031) get a one-time stipend based on their evaluation rating.

The kicker is this. The union-backed “step increase” plan would have left about 450 teachers out of a pay increase, many more than in the proposal approved by the board. Maybe there’s some other reason for JCEA’s less fair plan. Like, they don’t think we ought to distinguish the best teachers and pay them a little more, or they just enjoy the power and control over making sure everyone gets paid the same based on seniority and the number of graduate courses completed.

Then there’s the curriculum issue. Some have gone as far as to make fun of the board for bringing up a conversation about how U.S. history is taught in Jeffco public schools. That’s pretty sad and immature in itself. I don’t have a big opinion on the whole Advanced Placement U.S. history discussion (though Rick Hess has expressed the most sensible views).

Really, though, is just bringing up the idea of having a community review board worthy of a teacher “sickout”? The school board hasn’t even voted on the idea of forming a committee, much less made any recommendations or curriculum changes. Jeffco boards have organized this kind of committee in the past.

But if this is genuinely the issue behind the turmoil, and teachers are interested in knowing what is going on in AP history classes, shouldn’t they stage a “walk-in” rather than a “walkout”? I mean, throw open the doors of the classrooms. Surely, they aren’t hiding anything, or threatened by a community curriculum discussion? Once again, the real threat seems to be that the union is losing control of the process.

The JCEA released a statement (quoted in the 9News story) that says the union didn’t “organize” the sickout. (Depends on what the meaning of “organize” is… you know?)

Nonetheless, that leaves wide open the question of what JCEA’s role, its level of involvement, has been. It looks from my vantage point like they just wanted another chance to accuse a board that has increased transparency of being secretive, that has been fiscally prudent of being wasteful, and that has offered nearly all teachers significant pay raises of being disrespectful. Seriously?

Five and 10 years ago, the sickouts came from Boulder Valley. Today, it’s in Jeffco. No matter where it is, this kind of action that puts kids in the middle of a political power play makes me feel sick.

And given the likely justifications for this course of action, it also has me feeling downright confused, as well. Here’s hoping it begins and ends today.